State music museum proposal advances to full Texas Senate

A bill backed by Gov. Greg Abbott to create a state music museum in Austin gained momentum in the Legislature on Tuesday as the Senate Business and Commerce Committee advanced the measure to the Senate floor on a vote of 8-0.

A House hearing on the legislation later Tuesday signaled strong support for the museum, with proponents heavily outnumbering opponents. Long-time musician Joe Ely of Austin said Texas needs the museum “to trace the influence that music has made” in shaping the state.

Senate Bill 1447, sponsored by Kirk Watson, D-Austin, is designed to help preserve Texas’ rich musical heritage, but a hearing before the committee last week exposed deep divisions over the proposal. Opponents, including owners of the Texas Musicians Museum in Irving, claimed the state-backed museum could drive smaller regional music museums out of business.

A replay of the battle was expected later in the day when the House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee holds a 2 p.m. hearing on a companion measure, House Bill 2495 by Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth.

Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, outlined a companion version, House Bill 2495, before the House Culture, Recreation and Tourism Committee, saying the proposed museum would be built without tax funds “to preserve, recognize and celebrate the rich and varied heritage of Texas music.”

Thomas and Marianne Kreason, husband-and-wife owners of the Texas Musicians Museum in Irving, said they would be willing to reverse previously expressed opposition to the bill if the North Texas facility and other regional museums are allowed to collaborate in the undertaking and share in the funding.

But Geren, in a brief interview after the hearing, said the Austin museum would be the only beneficiary of a foundation that would be created to raise money for the project. “This foundation will be set up to benefit this museum and that’s it,” he said.

The committee took no action on House Bill 2495 but is expected to ultimately approve the measure, possibly next week.

Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, chairman of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, is co-sponsor of the Senate bill.

The Senate bill breezed through Hancock’s committee with no discussion.

The museum, which would be a few blocks north of the State Capitol and near the southern edge of the University of Texas at Austin, would be housed in a new 14-story building as part of an ambitious master plan to expand the capitol complex northward. Planners envision the musical museum as part of a state museum district that will also encompass the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Texas, and UT’s Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, one of the largest university art museums in the United States.

The music museum would be constructed and operated under the same concept used for the Bullock Museum, which was built at a cost of $80 million and opened in 2001, but no taxpayer money would be used for construction, according to sponsors. It would be built on what is now a parking lot across from the Bullock Museum, named after the late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, a staunch advocate of historic preservation.

The State Preservation Board, responsible for overseeing the facility, would create a nonprofit Texas Music Foundation to raise money for construction through record sales, live performances, and recordings and donations. After opening, supporters say, it would continue to be self-sustaining through fees charged for admissions, parking, rental and other uses, but opponents express skepticism that the state will be able to maintain the attraction as a tax-free enterprise.

The state museum district is an integral part of the $550 million capitol complex master plan that evolved over four previous legislative sessions and calls for the creation of two additional state office buildings, a pedestrian mall and five layers of underground parking. The music museum, along with agencies, would be housed in one of the two new buildings. Planners hope to complete the overall project by 2020.